Excerpted from article by GOOD RX
Updated on July 7, 2022
No, statins do not increase dementia risk. They may even protect against it.
Statins are among the most frequently prescribed medications. Some people taking statins report side effects, including memory loss. In 2012, the FDA even added memory loss, or confusion, as a potential side effect on the label of all statin medications.
There are ongoing studies investigating if statins cause dementia. So far, the link between statins and dementia does not appear strong. In fact, some research suggests statins may have some brain-protective effects.
For people with high cholesterol, these medications can save lives by reducing life-threatening events like heart attacks and strokes. But there has been concern about whether medications that lower cholesterol might have bad effects on the brain, which is the most cholesterol-rich organ in the body.
Many people who take statins have reported changes in their memory or feeling like they have a foggy head. These are examples of cognitive side effects, meaning they affect how someone thinks. This has led to a lot of discussion about a possible link between statins and dementia.
Some reports have stated that statins actually protect against dementia, and other reports have warned that they may increase dementia risk. So we combed through the evidence to set the record straight on statins and dementia.
The link between statins and dementia
Scientists have been working hard to figure out if statins might be causing dementia — or any other harm to the brain. Below are some of the largest and most studies and what they showed.
A recent expert review gathered data from 24 different studies that looked at the link between statins and dementia. These studies collectively included over 1 million people, ages 60 years and older:
- Main finding: They did not find a significant link between statin medications and dementia.
- Limitations: The longest study followed people for 15 years. Researchers suggested that future studies should follow people for longer.
A 2021 study looked at data of more than 18,000 adults over 65 years old who were taking statins:
- Main finding: There was no significant link between statins and dementia — or statins and any cognitive impairment.
- Limitations: These people took different types of statin medications. And it was a retrospective analysis, which means the data was not initially collected to look for this link. This can make the data a little harder to interpret.
A 2019 Australian study of over 1,000 participants measured memory and brain volumes in people over 70 years old who were taking statins:
- Main finding: When the researchers compared people taking statins with those who didn’t take them, there was no difference in cognitive decline, memory loss, or brain volume. Interestingly, those who started a statin during the study seemed to have a slower rate of memory loss.
- Limitations: This was a well-designed trial, but it should be repeated on larger numbers of people to make sure these findings stand.
A large 2019 study of over 28,000 older adults followed them for 5 years after a concussion. Concussion increases the risk for dementia, and so a significant amount of study participants developed dementia in this time period. Researchers looked at whether people taking statins had increased dementia.
- Main finding: Among people with a concussion in this study, 1 in 6 developed dementia. People who were taking a statin had a moderate reduction in dementia. Specifically, they were 13% less likely to develop dementia.
- Limitations: This finding does not necessarily apply to all adults. It looked specifically at people who had a concussion and were thus at increased risk of dementia.
Do statins increase or decrease the risk of dementia?
So far, there’s no convincing evidence that statins increase someone’s risk of dementia. A fair number of studies are even suggesting that statins might have a protective effect on the brain and reduce dementia risk. Research is ongoing. But currently, the best research suggests the benefits of statin therapy outweigh potential risks.
Are there other neurological side effects of statins?
The research looks promising that statins are not likely to be a major risk for dementia. But there’s still the question of whether there are other brain-damaging effects from statins. Could the cholesterol-lowering action of statins cause other neurological harms to the cholesterol-rich brain structures?
The jury is still out on this matter.
Many of the studies above looked at cognitive symptoms and memory loss, and they did not find evidence that statins increase the risk of these symptoms. Similar to dementia, some of the data suggests statins protected against memory loss.
But there’s also quality research that shows possible links with Parkinson’s disease and peripheral neuropathy. At the same time, there’s at least equally strong evidence showing that statins may protect against these neurologic diseases.
We still need more research to understand the effect of statins on the full spectrum of neurological diseases — beyond dementia.
The bottom line
Making the decision to start a statin or any new medication can be difficult. We all worry about potential side effects. The best time to start a medication is when the potential health benefits are great, and the risks of the medication are minor. Someone at high risk for heart disease, for example, has more to gain than lose with a statin. A statin will decrease their risk of a heart attack. And there’s no evidence to show it will increase their risk of dementia.
Still, having an open discussion with the provider who knows your medical history can make decisions about medications a bit easier. It’s important for you to feel comfortable and confident with your treatment plan.
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